Baker, Coakley Square Off In Gubernatorial Debate

(Video by BU News Service reporter Rebecca Sananes)

By Meggie Quackenbush
BU News Service

Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate at WGBH was a dynamic showdown between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker, who are in a dead-heat with only weeks to go until the election.

Presented by WGBH and The Boston Globe, and moderated by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan of WGBH, the one-on-one matchup between the candidates zeroed in on some of the campaign’s hot-button issues. Rapid-fire questions from Braude and Eagan touched on the candidates’ policies on new taxes, gaming legislation, the state’s child protection system, and campaign attack ads.

The two candidates also sparred on questions about undocumented citizens living and working in Massachusetts, with Baker placing responsibility for the issue on Washington.

“Folks in Washington deal with immigration like it’s a football,” Baker said. He called on Congress to build a clear immigration policy that will allow state governments to handle the issue on a local level.

But for Coakley, the issue is more complex. “We have a new Massachusetts, with new residents who are here and who are going to be here,” she said, arguing that Washington is ignoring the issue. Coakley said she sees it is a local question that demands immediate attention.

As he has throughout the campaign, Baker criticized Coakley for defending the government in a lawsuit brought by an advocacy group blaming the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) for the tragic deaths and abuses of foster children in recent years. He accused Coakley of “fighting the problem rather than fixing it,” saying she stood by while funding for DCF was cut by the Patrick Administration.

Coakley rebuffed Baker’s criticisms, noting that the lawsuit was brought by outside lawyers and dismissed by a judge. Coakley argued that the state was correct in denying the outside lawyer’s “one-size-fits-all” solution for the issues at DCF.

DCF’s problems aren’t just about money, according to Coakley. She argued that the structure and mission of the agency need reconsidering, pointing out that it currently doesn’t offer social workers the training or support they need to properly do their jobs.

Both candidates took advantage of the face-off to riff on the other’s experience, with Baker questioning Coakley’s credibility as Attorney General and Coakley criticizing Baker’s record as former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim.

Coakley pointed to a 1999 deal made during Baker’s leadership of Harvard Pilgrim that forced Massachusetts jobs overseas. The deal, for which Baker received an “outsourcing excellence award” in 2008, is the subject of an attack ad from the Coakley campaign that includes a photo of Baker dressed in a tuxedo accepting his award for outsourcing.

The ad touches on what Baker said he sees as the biggest misconception about him among voters: “That I’m a numbers person and not a people person.” Baker remarked that he has devoted his whole career to serving people, pointing to the work he did to turn around a struggling Harvard Pilgrim and to keep jobs here in Massachusetts as chief executive.

But the question about whether Baker is a good or bad guy isn’t the issue, according to Coakley. “It’s about the values that drive your choices,” she said.

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